Best Books for Architects

18 Best Books for Architects (Professional and Architecture Students)

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Over time as an architect and interacting with other architects, there is an invaluable amount of resources from another's point of view. Another point of view opens your eyes to a different perspective of the same gaze. Reading is one way of meeting other architects who came before me, and each time has been life-changing. I would love to share the best books for architects according to my experience and some recommendations.

Here are some books you will enjoy reading while making references or finding inspiration. Students and professional architects alike will find the books helpful and insightful.

Urban Architecture Books for Architects

1) Contemporary Residential Architecture

By Virginia McLeod

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Detail in Contemporary Residential Architecture:...
  • Hardcover Book
  • McLeod, Virginia (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 240 Pages - 05/10/2007 (Publication Date) - Laurence King...

image source: bookdepository.com

Architecture's technical and aesthetic theories go hand in hand, which is why it is both an art and a science. This book perfectly combines the two worlds, showing both aspects' importance. With 50 of the most influential designs between 2000 and 2005, the book presents artists with true elements for your inspiration.

The book appeals to the art side of any architect with its colored pages and floor plans. In addition, other construction details that you will learn in architecture school, including sections and elevations, are included in this masterpiece.

2) Modern Architecture

By Kenneth Frampton

Modern Architecture: A Critical History (World of Art)
  • Frampton, Kenneth (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 376 Pages - 05/01/1992 (Publication Date) - Thames & Hudson...

I can only compare this text to an art book called "the romantic rebellion" by Kenneth Clark, which depicts the rise of the romantic style of art and its duel with classicism. The similarity is stark because Kenneth Frampton depicts the birth of the architectural design process as it was today from the 1700s, when romanticism was birthed later in that century. But, of course, this is apart from the fact that they are both called Kenneth.

image source: goodreads.com

This is a period I wish I lived in (except for the medical history part) because of how conscious and practical architectural design was.

Each chapter of the book presents a period of architectural development or a specific architect in their setting. This chronological approach sets you in motion as you can see how the developments were made over the years. This is especially a piece for architects looking for a purpose in their designs.

This is one of the architecture books used for reading assignments for architecture students, so if you can get your hands on it, you will enjoy every moment.

3) Detail in Contemporary Timber Architecture

By Virginia McLeod

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Detail in Contemporary Timber Architecture
  • Laurence King
  • McLeod, Virginia (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 224 Pages - 09/08/2015 (Publication Date) - Laurence King...

Timber is one of the most ancient materials we can remember, and the fact that they are still in use suggests a lot. Timber has a lot of practical and aesthetic designs that play a huge role in modern architecture. This book combines 50 of the most influential designs you can pick inspiration from.

image source: abebooks.com

The works featured are from some of the most famous architects of our time, presenting all architectural projects with color photographs and plans. In addition, each project is further detailed with descriptions and useful notes that you can pick lessons from.

Better still, you are getting a CD-ROM with all the drawings printed in the book in both DWG (a generic CAD) and EPS formats.

4) Architecture Student’s Handbook of Professional Practice

The American Institute of Architects

The Architecture Student's Handbook of Professional...
  • Amazon Kindle Edition
  • American Institute of Architects (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 653 Pages - 01/12/2017 (Publication Date) - Wiley (Publisher)

This useful literature will keep the architectural student and professional architects safe throughout their projects. In the real world, architecture comes with much more than the book seeks to prepare you for. The book explores the business and administrative challenges you will face during your practice.

image source: Wiley.com

Legal, financial, management, marketing, and administrative tasks are more explored in the book, and you can borrow a lot of lessons that would be painful to learn firsthand. As an artist, this is the book I go back to every time I work on my plans to set up my firm while learning from the best architecture firms.

The things you can hope to learn in the book include project delivery, professional development, licensing, and strategic planning. These are some of the things that will make you a professional architect.

5) Historic and Modern Architecture Combined

By marc Kristal

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The New Old House: Historic & Modern Architecture...
  • ABRAMS
  • Hardcover Book
  • Kristal, Marc (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 240 Pages - 03/14/2017 (Publication Date) - Abrams (Publisher)

Also known as the old new house, the book talks about 18 private historic homes and traces how architects have renovated the houses for a more modern look. The houses have a rich history, some lasting hundreds of years. This book shows how history and modernity can exist in the same space as modernity. Architecture expresses itself in ways that can be interpreted in different languages and contexts, and that is why this book works.

image source: Goodreads.com
As an architecture student, this book presents you with ideas on how to approach problems that require an architectural eye.

6) Urban Sketching Handbook

By Gabriel Campanario

The Urban Sketching Handbook Architecture and...
  • Quarry Books
  • Campanario, Gabriel (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 112 Pages - 11/01/2014 (Publication Date) - Quarry Books...

As an architect, architectural design is one thing you have to be constantly studying. Architecture lovers find inspiration from buildings; one vital part of their creative process is taking notes. Of course, sketching on location is the best way of taking architectural notes. This book talks about the tips you can use to draw on location and do it properly.

image source: Goodreads.com

There are more than 500 sketches sampled in the award-winning book, and over 100 urban sketchers are featured. In addition, the book discusses how to draw on location regardless of the situation.

You will gain many artistic skills, including working with lighting concepts, contrast, lines, depth, composition, scale, and more. This way, you can pay attention to the architectural concepts of each building construction. In addition, you can learn a lot since sketching is one method of active observation.

7) The Future of Architecture

By Frank Lloyd Wright

The Future of Architecture
  • Wright, Frank Lloyd (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 352 Pages - 05/01/1970 (Publication Date) - Plume (Publisher)

Frank Lloyd Wright is one of the master architects respected in the twentieth and twenty first century and puts together his experience-informed vision in a book that you must lay your hands on. Most architectural books talk about the past and present from an observational point of view, which is not bad. However, Frank looks at his works and explains what he aimed with his projects. This reminiscent piece is one you can borrow from and learn from his mistakes and achievements.

image source: nsuworks.nova.edu

Some photographs accompany the texts as Frank explains his concepts. The architecture book has some of the most controversial papers; you can find them here. This book examines the language of organic architecture, which Frank Lloyd Wright has used throughout his career.

8) The Architecture Reference & Specification Book (Everything Architects Need to Know Every Day)

By Julia McMorrough

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The Architecture Reference & Specification Book updated...
  • McMorrough, Julia (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 272 Pages - 01/09/2018 (Publication Date) - Rockport Publishers...

This is the book for you if you need information that is essential to planning and executing architectural projects. The project can be small or big; the book has your back. Building a strong architectural culture of competence is good, and this book puts you ahead in the game of accountability.

image source: Perlego.com

The book is up to date and is small enough to bring with you anywhere you go. This is one thing that must always be in your bag.

9) The Language of Architecture (26 Principles Every Architect Should Know)

By Andrea Simitch

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The Language of Architecture: 26 Principles Every...
  • Simitch, Andrea (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 224 Pages - 07/15/2014 (Publication Date) - Rockport Publishers...

While this list is not merit-based, this is a book that I will have to take to the top of my list once I am done. Every field has its unique language and terms, which are the basic building blocks of understanding architecture. This book is a visual dictionary that you can refer to whenever you are looking for inspiration or terminologies.

image source: goodreads.com

The 26 chapters in this book are comprehensive and are filled with the basic elements that every architect needs to master to have a fun time in the architectural world. There are visual references, including an introduction to architecture. In addition, you are getting a historical perspective on the elements in the book for better comprehension.

The beauty of this book is that it is useful for architects, interior design students, and professionals who can pick a lot from the book. You will know how the design elements in the book have been and can be used in practical applications.

This book is for everyone in the world of architecture, from professionals to students.

10) A Pattern Language (Towns, Buildings, Constructions)

By Christopher Alexander

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A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction...
  • Oxford University Press USA
  • Hardcover Book
  • Christopher Alexander (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 1171 Pages - 10/04/1977 (Publication Date) - Oxford University...

This book is one of three books that is daring to say the least. It suggests that everyone should be able to design the space in which they exist. From the family house to the neighborhood and the town, the book encourages the reader to take charge of their environment. 

This book guides you in the actual construction process.

image source: goodreads.com

This book is part of a three-book series written by three different architects, one of them being Alexander himself. Alexander and his friends published the books (the two others being The Timeless Way of Building and The Oregon Experiment), which attempt to lay an entirely new and alternative approach to building, planning, and architecture.

This book suggests that the architect should have a point of view from the people's perspective and understand the language that the people want to speak in their built environment.

If you think about it, people have always had architectural projects imposed on them, especially in design. Yet, most of the time, they like it but never play an active role in designing. This book speaks to that.

The other two books written alongside this one are just as valuable. Urban planning students and professionals can get alternative ideas from this collection.

11) Towards a New Architecture

By Le Corbusier

Towards a New Architecture
  • Le Corbusier (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 312 Pages - 04/01/2014 (Publication Date) - Martino Fine Books...

This book was authored by the great city planner Le Corbusier and is a must-read. The book is a collection of essays seeking to explore the concepts of modern architecture. This book for architects is loved and hated in equal measure by architects. While some architects swear by the book as their manifesto, others can not stand it. If you ever want to know the real definition of greatness, it is to be loved and hated tremendously in equal measure. This is one of the greatest architecture books of all time.

image source: Amazon.com

This book seeks to change how humans fundamentally relate to buildings. So take a read and see if you gain a new perspective on architecture. I did.

12) A Field Guide to American Houses (The Definitive Guide to Identifying and Understanding America’s Domestic Architecture)

By Virginia McAlester 

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A Field Guide to American Houses (Revised): The...
  • Alfred a Knopf Inc
  • McAlester, Virginia Savage (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 880 Pages - 11/10/2015 (Publication Date) - Knopf (Publisher)

Architectural ideas are best illustrated, and this book takes them to a new level. With over 600 photos and illustrations, the book describes the different architectural styles of each house, giving you a clear picture of the stylistic devices you can pick from each image. The book appreciates every building and detail and almost argues that the built environment is just as alive as plants.

image source: goodreads.com

Virginia McAlester helps you identify the historical contexts 0f the houses you see when you travel across America. Architecture books keep your mind in motion at all times, and Virginia does this well in her book. The book identifies houses from the 17th century to the present. This is particularly great for architecture students who need context in their experience with the built environment.

This book not only shows how a good professional and historical preservationist Virginia is, but it displays her mastery of architecture.

13) The Barefoot Architect (A Handbook for Green Building)

By Johan van Lengen

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The Barefoot Architect
  • Shelter Publications Inc
  • Johan van Lengen (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 720 Pages - 10/28/2007 (Publication Date) - Shelter Publications,...

Johan is a former UN worker who has traveled enough to know the need for greener buildings to have a sustainable design in architecture. This prompted him to write this book which provides architects with a greener approach to the built environment. The book guides the architect like a cookbook would a chef, placing each ingredient in its right place to achieve architectural completeness with a personalized taste of the architect reading the book.

image source: Amazon.com.au

This book will show you how to site, orient, and have climate considerations in your design. This is especially a need in today's architectural world because of the climatic situation we are currently facing.

Johan not only looks at climatic sustainability but considers a cheaper approach to his method. The materials he suggests for use are those found in nature, including bamboo, cactus, or sisal. In addition, sections discuss urban planning, cleaning and storing clean drinking water, waste management, energy production, and more.

This is one of the most wholesome architecture books you might ever read because of the emphasis on building with the environment in mind and city planning.

14) Destination Architecture-The Essential Guide to 1000 Contemporary Buildings

By Phaidon

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The Barefoot Architect
  • Shelter Publications Inc
  • Johan van Lengen (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 720 Pages - 10/28/2007 (Publication Date) - Shelter Publications,...

I believe architecture, just as reading, is a practice you can build as a cognitive strength. By now, you do not read by checking every lttr writtn in a sntnce, but by relying on the snapshots, your brain has kept over the years. By reading and acquainting yourself enough with architecture books, you will gain this strength and easily identify patterns and stylistic devices of buildings.

image source: Amazon.com

This book combines works by the world's finest architects and their works all in one place by featuring 1000 of their most compelling buildings. Each of the buildings featured is illustrated and has descriptions to it. The illustrations help you get a deeper understanding of the world of architecture and build a data bank in your memory to help you identify building styles instantly.

15) Vitruvius: The Ten Books on Architecture

By Vitruvius (the one whose notes Da Vinci based the Vitruvian man drawing upon) 

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Vitruvius: The Ten Books on Architecture
  • Vitruvius (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 331 Pages - 06/01/1960 (Publication Date) - Dover Publications...

The Roman architecture will live to be remembered forever. The Roman empire was the strongest and largest of its time, and one of its greatest influences surpassed military might and could be seen in everyday life; architecture. Vitruvius was the greatest architect of the time and the greatest ever, and his book is one of the most influential ever. I had heard the name Vitruvius before I knew who he was.

image source: goodreads.com

In this book, Vitruvius gives instructions that have been keenly followed for hundreds of years by the greatest architects. Ten Books is an amazing book even for non-architects because of how much the built environment inspired by this book was a daily experience for them.

Some of Vitruvius' students included Michelangelo, Bramante, Vignola, Palladio, and more greats. This book can be credited for some of the most important works by the architects aforementioned.

This is one book I will strongly recommend. You will learn the differences between Dorian, Corinthian, and Ionic styles; symmetry, harmony, proportions, and more. We can all agree that during his period, architects took their profession rather too religiously, and this book is the core of it.

16) Poetics of Space

By Gaston Bachelard

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The Poetics of Space
  • Penguin Classics
  • Bachelard, Gaston (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 304 Pages - 12/30/2014 (Publication Date) - Penguin Classics...

image source: goodreads.com

This text is not limited to architects but open to philosophers, readers, writers, psychologists, critics, and just about anyone who can lay their hands on a copy. The mysterious imagery in this book lives up to its title and will offer you revelations unseen before. In addition, there are a lot of deliberations and meditations on art, poetry, and consciousness. This will be a thoughtful read.

17) Brunelleschi’s Dome How a Renaissance Genius Reinvented Architecture

By Ross King

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Brunelleschi's Dome: How a Renaissance Genius...
  • St Martins Pr
  • King, Ross (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 208 Pages - 08/13/2013 (Publication Date) - Bloomsbury USA...

Who would tell that a watchmaker would change the course of architectural history forever? Still the largest dome today, Filippo Brunelleschi solved the problem that all the architects and builders could not at the time. He built a dome out of thin air without the flying buttresses we would see in European architecture at the time.

image source: goodreads.com

This book is one of great inspiration, and as the challenge was put forth, a clockmaker took it up and saw it to its end.

18) A Global History of Architecture

By Francis Ching

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A Global History of Architecture
  • Hardcover Book
  • Ching, Francis D. K. (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 864 Pages - 04/17/2017 (Publication Date) - Wiley (Publisher)

image source: goodreads.com

How does studying 5000 years of the built environment sound, and what effect could it have on your architectural perspective? This book takes its way back and explores architecture, including non-western architecture, to contemporary global architecture. Knowing about the architectural movements through time is information that every architect should have. In addition, every field of mastery has periods that are important to improve the practitioner's knowledge.

Final Word

There are many more books we could talk about. However, of utmost importance is to improve your architectural "grammar" and widen your perspective on matters of architecture. Architecture books help you delve into the worlds of architects before you, and you can believe that they have a lot to offer.

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About the author

Jacky Chou

Jacky Chou is an electrical engineer turned marketer. He is the founder of Indexsy, Far & Away, Laurel & Wolf, a couple FBA businesses , and about 40 affiliate sites. He is a proud native of Vancouver, BC, who has been featured on Entrepreneur.com, Forbes, Oberlo and GoDaddy.